Council tentatively approves budget
City Council tentatively approved the City’s fiscal 2012-13 budget and millage rates Tuesday, setting up a final vote for the Sept. 25 meeting, the last before the Oct. 1 start of the new budget year.
Special hearings on all four pieces of legislation drew sparse reaction from the public, with only a few using their three-minute window to voice support or opposition to the product that has been forged through Council Finance Committee hearings throughout August.
One of Council’s more impactful budget decisions, an Aug. 28 vote to allow the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to retain $10.5 million in savings, did receive attention, but not through public comment.
Mayor Alvin Brown submitted a letter Tuesday to Council President Bill Bishop stating his reasoning behind not signing or vetoing the legislation and returning it to Council. The bill becomes law even without Brown’s signature, but Brown said he had “significant concerns” about the legislation.
In the letter, Brown said that prior to submitting his proposed budget to Council, he asked the sheriff’s office to make budget reductions that were “in percentage terms, significantly smaller” than other agencies like the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, Jacksonville Public Library and Public Works Department — three agencies harder hit through budget cuts.
“It is unfair to those critical city agencies that have absorbed deep cuts to allow one agency to use one-time money rather than engage in budget tightening. I am also concerned about relying on projected current year surpluses for future spending before we know for certain that surpluses exist,” Brown said in the letter.
Brown also returned to Council a resolution it approved supporting the seeking of information about relocating the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office to the “Sax Property” in LaVilla.
“I have concerns about building a large, new government facility during these challenging fiscal times,” Brown said in that letter, which identifies a cost of $5 million.
He also said his administration will conduct a “full and good faith evaluation” of the property and report back to Council.
David DeCamp, Brown’s communications director, said Tuesday evening that Brown did not agree with the legislation but did not veto it — which would have sent it back to Council for another vote — because he respects the sheriff and Council.
Two issues that could mean a larger or smaller budget hole will be addressed before the Sept. 25 meeting and relate to health care claims by City workers and savings on a health care contract.
Council members will be able to offer floor amendments to alter figures in the budget, but as Council member John Crescimbeni, chair of the finance committee, said Tuesday, offering such amendments to fund one service or department will mean cutting elsewhere.
“I think that is going to be extremely difficult this year to move anything around,” he said.
Other news from Tuesday’s Council meetings:
• Council unanimously approved legislation to transfer operations of the St. Johns River Ferry from the port to the City beginning Oct. 1. The City will operate the service through the St. Johns River Ferry Commission, which is currently finalizing details of the transfer.
• Marla Buchanan was confirmed as a member of the ferry commission and Tatiana Salvador was confirmed as a member of the Ethics Commission. Both items were in their third readings.
• Withdrawn: an ordinance appropriating $5,000 from an environmental protection fund to provide scholarships for residents to attend the Northeast Florida Environmental Symposium; and an ordinance placing a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot regarding changes to the makeup of the Police and Fire Pension Fund board of trustees.
• As reported Tuesday, two companies, Advanced Disposal and Jacksonville Lime LLC, had legislation introduced that would provide each company economic development incentives. Advanced Disposal’s legislation is to support its headquarters expansion that would create 85 full-time jobs. It seeks $695,000 through the state and City combined, with the City’s contribution being no more than $119,000. Jacksonville Lime LLC would be operated by Pittsburgh-based Carmeuse Lime & Stone and seeks $1.19 million total for the creation of 22 full-time jobs. The City would contribute $1.17 million through a Recapture Enhanced Value grant and $11,000 through a Brownfield Redevelopment Bonus.